Deepening Our Spiritual Connection

I spent most of today sleeping.

As I write this, I’m mad at myself for doing that. I feel I can’t afford to sleep. But I just couldn’t fight it. Heather must have known I needed it too, as she usually wouldn’t allow it. But I should have been outside or working or doing something productive. Instead, I woke up this morning to help Heather get the kids ready for school, made a giant banana-avacado-coconut smoothie with my morning supplements drizzled in (I was too tired to cook), cleaned the living room, dozed off, ate lunch and then slept some more.

I do find that Mondays after my Saturday treatment in Chicago are lazy days. For the most part I expect them now. But this one was a special kind of exhaustion. During my afternoon siesta I had a strange dream.

I was stuck in an empty field and I couldn’t focus on anything. I had to get somewhere, but I didn’t remember where I had to go and it didn’t matter because nothing was in focus. People I didn’t recognize were asking me questions and trying to help me get there, but I was of no help to them. Eventually I felt too weak and overwhelmed, so I just stopped trying and gave up. Then I woke up.

I used to write things off like that as just a dream and moved on, but now-a-days, with all the research and studying I’m doing on our emotions, thoughts and our subconscious, I pay much more attention to these things. I do believe our subconscious tells us things and I try to listen as best I can. Obviously this dream could mean just about anything or nothing at all, but I try to learn all I can going through this journey.

One thing I am really into right now is learning about Reiki. “Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.”

My first experience with Reiki was when I was in the infusion center, receiving Chemo at Troy Beaumont Hospital. A woman came in my infusion pod and asked if I’d like Reiki. I asked her a few questions about it and then agreed to have her help “heal” me. Why not? I can’t explain how it makes me feel, but instantly I feel overwhelming peace and I usually fall asleep. Through the 9 chemo infusions I did have, I had her do Reiki with me every time she was available, even though I didn’t understand it.

But this wasn’t my first experience with this type of Eastern Medicine technique. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, one of Heather’s friends said she knew a woman who was a Pranic healer and she really wanted to come to my house and lay hands on me. My guard was instantly up. I grew up very religious. Anyone that claimed they could heal better be a pastor or a priest or else they were from some form of cult. But this Pranic healer insisted she wanted to come and I reluctantly agreed.

“Pranic Healing is a highly evolved and tested system of energy medicine developed by GrandMaster Choa Kok Sui that utilizes prana to balance, harmonize and transform the body’s energy processes. Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life-force. This invisible bio-energy or vital energy keeps the body alive and maintains a state of good health. In acupuncture, the Chinese refer to this subtle energy as Chi. It is also called Ruach or the Breath of Life in Hebrew.”

Here’s how it went down. I was still recovering from surgery, so it was very hard to lie down flat, but I was able to get somewhat comfortable on the couch. She told me to close my eyes and relax and she was just going to hover her hands over me in various locations. After 45 minutes she would tell me anything she was feeling about my energy. There were times I peeked at what she was doing and thought to myself “This is so weird. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” During the 45 minutes, she would occasionally ask me questions. Remember, she knew nothing about me and she didn’t want to know anything about me. She said two things during our time together that opened my eyes a little bit to things I still don’t fully understand.

“I’m sensing a lot of sadness and anger regarding your family.”

That took my by surprise. At the time I was diagnosed with cancer, I was barely speaking with my older brother and his wife and held a lot of resentment towards my parents. My parents had recently divorced and when parents divorce, even when kids are adults, it divides families. I  was angry at my brother and his wife because I felt it was left to me as my job to help my dad get through this time, even though I couldn’t stand either of my parents at the time. In my head, I thought my mom was going to be okay, but my dad was going to have more problems, and he honestly did. I didn’t choose a side, but both my mom and brother seemed to just butt heads with my decisions. I made a choice and even though it was hard to handle the divided family, some serious things happened during those months that made me realize I made the right decision to be there for my dad. The good news is time heals and our family, while still broken and adjusting to new lives, is healing slowly, as am I. I don’t believe my brother or his wife were wrong, I don’t believe my mom was wrong and I don’t believe my dad was wrong. I don’t believe anyone was wrong. None of us made perfect decisions through it all, but there is no right way through divorce. We seemed to have survived it.

Then the bombshell hit.

“I’m also sensing a lot of anger and unforgiveness. Unforgiveness builds up in your liver and you have to release it.”

Remember, this is when I had a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis. This is a few weeks before they found shadows on my liver and my disease had spread to my liver to become stage 4. At the time she said it, I accepted that I obviously had built up frustration and unforgiveness, but when tumors showed up on my liver, that statement came rushing back into my head. Can unreleased emotions really cause disease?

They can.

The book I’ve been reading, Radical Remission, talks about this at great lengths through all the survivor stories. Our bodies aren’t just physical beings. They are spiritual beings too. I’ve been reading my Radical Remission book for a long time and it’s honestly not very long. I’m now on the final chapter and I’m scared to finish it. Here’s a fun fact about me, I’ve never finished Arrested Development, one of my all-time favorite shows. I’ve never watched the end of season 3 or the Netflix reboot because I don’t want it to be over. I really hate finishing things that bring me such joy. It’s strange, but that’s how I am.  Anyway, I just finished a chapter about “Deepening Your Spiritual Connection”. She says something in it that perfectly sums up this chapter.

Spirituality is a delicate subject, mostly because contradictory religious beliefs have led to so many wars and atrocities throughout the centuries. Therefore, it is with great sensitivity that I broach this topic and its potential relationship with physical healing. The mere mention of “spiritual healing” often polarizes a room. Those with a strong spiritual practice will perk up immediately, while those without any spiritual beliefs or practices will abruptly shut down.

That’s so very true. There really isn’t any topic that can do that to a group of people. She goes on to explain that spirituality doesn’t have to always mean God. Some cultures don’t believe in the same God I do, but that doesn’t make them any less spiritual. Some people don’t believe in God at all, but they feel this amazing spiritual energy when they are surrounded by nature. I do believe in God, but I also believe in spirituality as way more than just praying or going to church. And just because someone visits my house and hovers her hand over me, giving my valid insight into my emotions and mind, that doesn’t mean she is practicing some dark form of witchcraft (which is what I would have believed growing up). There are things we don’t understand completely involving the spiritual side of life, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make them evil.

Jumping back to Reiki, I had an absolutely amazing Reiki experience 6 weeks ago during my treatment in Chicago. Every friday in Chicago I receive my Vitamin C infusion. During this particular infusion, Heather called crying to tell me her Grandpa had died. It hurt to hear her cry and it hurt to know her Grandpa had died. I was really affected by it. This also happened to be the week after I had the really bad reaction to Erbitux, when I couldn’t breath. I was really worried and hesitant to even do the next drug in that same family, Vectibix. When I arrived at the infusion center the next morning, I had quite an interesting experience. My neighbor Kerry’s doppelgänger was my nurse. I first heard her voice and thought to myself “that sounds just like Kerry” and then when I saw her it was seriously like a separated at birth moment. I even told her how much she reminds me of my neighbor to which she just laughed it off.

My Reiki healer, Meghan, then came into the infusion center room, as I like to request Reiki during infusions. The first thing she normally does is ask how I’m doing and what I’m hoping to address during the session. As she asked this, I just started crying (it seems I cry a lot). I explained to her that my wife’s grandpa had died and that I’m at an all time anxious high about this drug. I opened up to her that I really hated how my life has become measured in two week increments of flying to Chicago and how I have no dreams and plans and goals anymore. I just live in a routine of making food and taking supplements all day, researching how to fight cancer, blood work trips to hospitals/acupuncture/chiropractor and hoping and praying that some day I’ll beat the low odds and somehow manage to beat this disease. That I’ll somehow be able to see my kids grow up. I possibly opened up a little too much, but that’s how I feel every single moment of every single day and I just had to let out. As I was finishing up my venting, my neighbor’s twin walked in and I just laughed and blurted out, “At least my neighbor is here. She looks and sounds exactly like my neighbor. Same energy. Same personality. Everything.” Then Meghan says,

“Sometimes the universe or God or whatever you believe in sends us comforting faces to help ease our worries. I truly believe she is here because for some reason you need a comforting person to help you through this treatment.”

She was absolutely right. I stopped my venting. I stopped worrying. And I just released it all. I closed my eyes as she started Reiki, which usually begins with her gently touching my face with her hands, and the release of emotion was incredible. I’ve never had so many tears falling down my face and I wasn’t even crying. It was just a river of emotion. After the session I felt so free. So alive. So full of hope. I had never in my life experienced something like that and since that time, it has never happened again like that. I’ve never been addicted to anything before in my life, but I do often think about how I felt at that moment and wish for it to one day happen again.

So why did it happen? Why did I feel this amazing sense of well-being. This perfect moment of just complete and unconditional love and peace? There is science behind it. Researchers have been able to study things like Reiki and meditation now by using fMRI and EEG technology. They’re able to actually see how spirituality can affect the body. When people are taking part in some form of spiritual connection, the body actually releases high levels of melatonin in the body.

“Melatonin is a healthy and necessary hormone in our bodies that help us sleep. A good night’s sleep is vital to our health because it is the only time when our immune systems can spend hours repairing cells and cleaning out the body. Interestingly, melatonin has been found to be dangerously low in many cancer patients. Therefore this study could explain how a spiritual practice might help the body fight cancer.”

Other studies have looked directly at meditation’s effects on the immune system. One such study showed that the more you meditate, the more virus antibodies you produce. In another study on the immune system, meditation was shown to significantly increase telomerase activity in the immune cells. Telomerase is commonly known as the anti-aging enzyme because it allows cells to live longer.

Finally, meditation can affect our epigenetics. While we may not be able to change which genes we inherit from our parents, we can through our behavior, change whether or not certain genes are turned on or off. Keep in mind, a faulty gene you may have inherited can only hurt you if it is turned on. In terms of spiritual practice, one recent study showed that beginner meditations significantly changed their gene expression in a health promoting way after just 8 weeks of regular meditation. This is an incredible discovery for cancer patients, because it means they do not need to be so fearful if they are carriers of cancer genes, like the BRCA mutation in breast cancer patients. Instead, cancer patients who have these ecogenes can focus on certain behaviors, like diet, spiritual practice, exercise, which all have the potential to turn those genes off.”

Our spiritual connection, whether it be from church, nature, meditation, exercise, yoga, or whatever you find gives you that sense of inner peace, can actually change our genetic makeup. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again and again to anyone who will listen, our bodies are absolutely amazing. That’s why I refuse to believe I can’t fight this disease without putting my body through chemo that only has an 11% chance to help me live 5 years. That being said, I have no idea if what I’m doing is really working. I am just believing that I’m doing as much as I can on my good days and simply putting one foot in front of another on my bad days, like today.

During my trip to CTCA last week I met with a few doctors that I hadn’t seen since my first trip to Chicago. I see a lot of doctors in my two days there – Nurse Navigators, Quality of Life doctors, Oncologists, Nutritionists, Naturopaths. It’s not uncommon for me to have different doctors from time to time as everyone has their days off and busy schedules. The difference is they all work as a team and know every case from every patient well.

On last friday I saw my initial Quality of Life doctor and she was very happy to see me. When I first saw her I didn’t know if I’d ever be back to CTCA as my initial appointments were terrible when I refused any more chemotherapy. She said something to me in regards to how well I looked, felt and how my blood work looked.

I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve seen people win their battles with cancer and I’ve seen people lose their battles with cancer. And you know what the common ground is for people that win their battle with cancer is? It’s the people that know themselves, that listen to their body and listen to their intuition. I don’t know if what you’re doing will end up putting you in the survivor category, but what I do know is that your ability to know yourself and know your body is very important and not everyone we see here has the ability to do that. Treating cancer is an art form, it isn’t concrete science. To be honest, we don’t know why some people beat cancer while other’s don’t. We don’t know why some treatments work for some and don’t work for others. What we do know is that patients who know themselves and trust their gut and intuition tend to do a lot better than those who blindly follow our advice. And here I am, a doctor, telling you this.

I’ve said it since this all started, my journey into the unknown is just that, unknown. I figure I have a 50% chance to get through this and see my kids get married and have kids of their own. I have a 50% chance to be cancer free. Because it’s either one of the other. I like those odds much better than 11% chance to live 5 years.

As I was getting on the shuttle to go back to the airport, a younger couple and I were at the back of the shuttle with the driver giving him our luggage. The driver asked him,

“So Jeremy, when can we expect you back?”

“Hopefully never. I’ve just been told I’m cancer free!”

Him and his wife were in tears. The driver, Jerry, and the transportation manager hugged them both and they all shared smiles and tears. I put my luggage on the shuttle and had tears of my own as I got on the shuttle. I was so happy for him, for them, but at the same time I felt so wrongly angry and jealous of them. I so want that for myself and Heather and my kids. I want to hear those words. I want to have the hugs and the tears of joy and I’m sure an enormous feeling of relief that I cannot possibly fathom.

I want Heather and I to be that couple. I believe it can happen one day, but that day just feels so far away.

One step at a time.

I am greater than cancer.